The minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, which runs the Phoenix Park, yesterday (7th Feb) announced that there would be a 30km/h speed limit for the park (see press release here). He also announced that the 8km of traffic cones (which keep disappearing) are going to be replaced with something a little more durable, and less pinchable. There was also a recent written question (see it on KildareStreet.com here) where the long awaited work on the park was mentioned. As someone who cycles in the park almost every day, I welcome these changed, but wonder will they be enough?
The current speed limit in the Phoenix Park is 50km/h. This speed limit is frequently exceeded, both on the main Chesterfield Avenue and on the smaller roads around the park. I have seen impatient drivers overtake each other across the continuous white line on the avenue. I do not think I have ever seen Garda Speed checks in the park. I wonder who will enforce the new speed limits? The current Bye-Laws to the park, dating from the 1925 Phoenix Park Act, forbid vehicles from being driven or parked across turf or grass in the Park, but if you look at the road below the Magazine Fort you will see that this is not enforced. Commercial vehicles are also not allowed use the park as a shortcut, but this too is not enforced. The Act mentions constables of the park, but also says that Gardaí may enforce the rules, however the sanctions seem to be taking someones address and throwing them out of the park. Will a 30km/h make cyclists, park users and animals safer? Only if they are enforced.
Another approach would be to change the infrastructure to make everyone safer. Wider roads mean higher speed. Chesterfield Avenue is a grand straight boulevard and motorists probably watch the Guinness Brewery getting closer more than they watch the road.
What if the main straight carriageway was kept for cyclists and pedestrians and the cars were routed around 3m wide one way lanes to each side? The roads could be given gentle curves to keep speeds low and raised platforms at intervals to facilitate pedestrians crossing or junctions with other roads. This would also change the whole perceived priority in the park: the people using the park would be in the centre, and those making their way to car parks etc. are to the side. Narrower roads lead to slower speeds, and more safety for people and animals.
These roads, and other roads in the park could be protected by wooden bollards, either like these shown in the picture, or smaller ones similar to those used by Coillte in some of the car parks for places such as Pine Forest. These would be much more in tune with the natural environment of the park and more sustainable than the thousands of plastic bollards currently in the park.
These side roads would keep the main avenue free for big races such as the Great Eastern Run which would be affected if other permanent measures are being put on the road. It would also leave the avenue open to ceremonial use.
Replacing the current traffic cones and replacing them with a permanent barrier also does not deal with the problem of pinch points at the 3 roundabouts. At least one cyclist has been injured at these roundabouts, as cars assert themselves by “merging” with the cycle lane having no regard for anyone who might be in that lane.
Another idea here would be to use the park as a demonstration site for Dutch style roundabouts/junctions and other safety measures. I say demonstration site, as these approaches have been proven elsewhere and do not need any further testing – only to be made familiar.